Saturday, June 21, 2008

Family Feud

It’s probably inevitable for the candidates’ families to get more air time this presidential cycle than ever before. Twenty-four hour cable news needs material to chew up round the clock, preferably something that doesn’t require any investigation or nuanced thought. Off the cuff comments by wives, politically peripheral to the campaign, are now fair game, if only because we’re down to two candidates and Barack Obama and John McCain have to sleep sometime.

Michelle Obama took her lumps in February’s run-up to the Wisconsin primary, after saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.” That’s not exactly what she meant, it was timed and phrased badly, and she was promptly taken to task for three reasons: she deserved it (she should be more aware of her comments if she’s going to be First Lady, which she is); talk show hosts need things to talk about (see above), and conservatives still can’t understand that Barack Obama can’t have a wacky Christian minister and be a Muslim. Someone in that family has to be less than an upstanding American; that day it was Michelle.

This week Cindy “The Only Person With a Face Stiffer Than Mine is Joan Rivers” McCain stepped in. Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, she had a chance to take a shot and did, saying, ”Everyone has their own experience. I don’t know why she said what she said — all that I know is I’ve always been proud of my country.”

Mrs. McCain apparently believes in taking everything a public figure says literally, which must lead to some entertaining moments parsing her husband’s comments at the end of a busy day. Since The Home Office believes in allowing everyone to set their own standards of evaluation, let’s see if Mrs. McCain’s statement holds water.

Is she proud of slavery? Jim Crow? (Better than slavery, but still…) How about our treatment of the Indians? Closer to home, what about veterans? (No one should have been surprised by the Walter Reed disclosures. The lowest moment of Bob Dole’s distinguished career of public service came when he turned into Claude Rains, shocked—shocked!—over the conditions at veterans hospitals. I could have told him that twenty-five years ago.) Is she proud of McCarthyism? Torture? How about spiriting people away so others can do our torture for us, allowing us to claim we have clean hands?

America is no worse than any other country when the sum totals are weighed together, and better than many. Everyone—nations, individuals, you, and certainly me—does things in the heat of the moment, when blood is up and dangers may seem greater than they really are. We understand it, make amends as best we can, and move on. For her to say she’s always proud of this country is one of three things: disingenuous; indicative of a disturbing lack of real world knowledge; or allowing us a glimpse at the more sinister aspects of her character, where all of the above are okay with her.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Tim Russert and Francisco Franco Have in Common

I liked Tim Russert, heard him go back and forth with Don Imus on numerous occasions. He was unfailingly good-natured, informative, and gave every impression of being, as one obituary described him, “the happy warrior.”

But still…

The media coverage of his unfortunate and unexpected death last week is what we might expect if the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, the Dali Lama, and Tiger Woods were killed by Osama bin Laden using a knife made from the bones of decapitated Christian virgins, anointed with the blood of aborted fetuses and handed to him by Satan personally.

Russert was well known, well liked, and highly respected in his field. It was proper for the NBC family to set aside a segment on each of their news shows for him; no one would find fault with making Sunday’s Meet the Press into a sympathetic retrospective. In fact, NBC dedicated virtually every news show to him; coverage of the US Open golf tournament showed Russert’s visage at every station break. MSNBC committed just about every show, throughout the weekend. Other news outlets, while not as extensive as Russert’s peers at NBC, were also exhaustive in their coverage.

Tim Russert, for all his fine qualities, was never the news. He was one of many who told us about the news. He was one of the best, and had been for a long time, but he was but the lens through which important events were displayed. For the media to invest this much energy in one of their own is a disturbing insight into how they view themselves. Acting as guardians of the First Amendment isn’t enough; the media have become the story, distorting the relative importance of events through their observation.

How might things have been different if this much energy had been expended verifying the Bush Administration’s claims for going to war in Iraq? Or any number of its other policies in the aftermath of 9/11? Too controversial, most likely. Sentiment is safer.